With five million inhabitants, Finland is a small country in every way. That applies to the realm of high-end audio as well. While there are some good signs of more serious enthusiasm and growing audiophilia, as well as of growing supply, enthusiasts with truly ultimate hifi systems aren’t that many. That is why I felt privileged to visit twice Keimo Kumpulainen’s place and be able to enjoy audio goodies of his setup.
As any really serious high-end enthusiast, Keimo has invested not only in his audio system but also the listening room. The room is built in a separate building next to the main building. Professionals carefully designed the acoustic treatment of the room and implementing the solutions was meticulously carried out. As a consequence, the effect of standing waves is minimized and diffusion characteristics optimized. To my ears, the acoustics of the room is top-notch and serves exemplarily the planned purpose.
Keimo’s system featured three recognized high-end brands: Dynaudio, Hovland and Bow. We did not discuss how Keimo had ended up in this particular setup. Instead I learned that some of the gear he had chosen after careful auditioning but some other items he had bought blind, based only on what vendors and some other experienced enthusiasts had recommended. Sometimes this is simply due to the fact that some very expensive products are not available for personal listening. Finally it is the end result what really matters and Keimo’s choices seemed to be well grounded, and by my knowledge serve his aims quite perfectly.
Keimo had positioned the speakers wide apart and quite close to the sidewalls, very far from the back wall. While I was listening to music I moved the listening chair a bit forward and then a bit backwards. I might have preferred to be a tad closer to the speakers than the suggested position, but there was no dramatic sonic difference between the positions. The distance was almost identical to the distance between the speakers. The speakers were toed in almost toward the ears of the listener.
CD player: Bow ZZ-8 (Pathos Endorphin during the first visit)
Preamplifier: Hovland HP-200
Power amplifiers: Hovland Stratos monoblocks
Speakers: Dynaudio Evidence Master
Associated equipment: Hovland Reference speaker cables; Hovland G3 interconnects; Hovland Main Line power cords; Stillpoints ESS 324 equipment rack; Stillpoints Component Stands.
Because the overall performance of this system was of such high
quality, mentioning some minor defects could be considered as hair-splitting.
But I do mention some all the same. Although the low end was dry, and yet extensive
and dynamic, I felt that a bit more punch and richness in the bass would not
done harm to the sound. Mids and highs were reproduced effortlessly and cleanly
leading to great tonality of wide spectrum of instruments. I only missed very
last bits of transparency, resolution and micro-details, or perhaps such details
were not really missing but softened. For sure, Keimo’s setup did not
seem to emphasize resolution and details over other characteristics.
If the low end was dynamic, so was the rest of the frequency spectrum. I could play very demanding orchestral music such as Minnesota Orchestras Respighi (RR-95CD) without problems; the full range music blows were greatly reproduced. Less demanding rock and jazz samples sounded naturally even more effortless. Despite this all I’d say that music’s dynamic contrasts could have been even more obviously highlighted. I wished a bit more speed and control.
Returning to essentials, the sound of Keimo’s setup was respectably coherent from top to bottom and proved once again that complex big multi-way loudspeakers can do without notable flaws in timing and tonal cohesiveness. This was verified by several samples, like violin music from the Burmester Test CD III. In addition, I could not detect any such intrusive sonic features, which would have distracted my listening. This is vital for long term enjoyment of listening.
It’s evident that when listening takes place in a strange environment, subjective impressions aren’t as confident as they would be in a more familiar surrounding. This time for example the listening position caused some uncertainty. But I did hear enough for being convinced of the high performance and potential of the system. It was entirety, which made this system to be so good, including the exemplary listening room!
Comprehensiveness came over complexity, and the overall flatness and smoothness of the sound made my listening sessions very rewarding. This may not have been the best system I’ve heard in my life - if such a system can be meaningfully appointed – but it certainly found its way to my brief list of reference setups. Thank you Keimo! I know you will continue to make experiments with new gear etc. but I also believe that you can intensively, ambitiously and totally enjoy what you’ve achieved sonically so far.